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The Hong Kong architect who helped shape the look of Singapore’s hospitality scene for the past 12 years

Andre Fu, who has designed the interiors of the Fullerton Bay Hotel, The Andaz and Capella Hotel Singapore and its new Italian restaurant Fiamma, expounds on his philosophy of relaxed luxury.

The Hong Kong architect who helped shape the look of Singapore’s hospitality scene for the past 12 years

Andre Fu is one of Asia's most sought-after interior designers. (Photo: Andre Fu Studio)

When The Upper House in Hong Kong opened in 2010, the hotel atop the glossy Pacific Place Mall was lauded for its eloquent design that married sublime proportions and exquisite materials such as bamboo, timber, shoji glass, limestone and lacquered paper.

Unlike many typical Hong Kong hotels where gaudy versions of opulence dominate, here was a truly international establishment that incorporated eastern influences in a modern, subtle and emotive way.

The project propelled its interior designer and architect Andre Fu into the limelight. Since then, he has created many memorable hospitality experiences.

In Singapore, he designed the interiors for the Fullerton Bay Hotel and the Andaz Singapore. Last year, he refreshed the guestrooms and villas of Capella Singapore where he had designed its Chinese restaurant Cassia when it opened.

Just recently, he designed its new Italian restaurant Fiamma, which is helmed by Chef Mauro Colagreco, hailed for his three-Michelin-starred Mirazur establishment in France.    

“I had no previous hotel experience when I designed The Upper House so I had no preconceived idea of the dos and the don’ts,” said Fu.

“It was not about creating a theatre of design but putting the end user in the first place and creating a feeling of comfort. It’s about how a person feels when he walks into a space, how they would use the room, where they would sit, where they would switch on the light – all these elements have rooted my philosophy of design.”  

A guest room in The Upper House Hong Kong. When the hotel first opened, it was considered the antithesis of what typically defines an Asian luxury hotel. (Photo: The Upper House Hong Kong)

Fu has witnessed Singapore’s hospitality scene change since he came to design the Fullerton Bay Hotel 12 years ago.

“At that time, Marina Bay did not really exist in the scale and formation that it is now. It’s been rewarding to see that [growth] as someone who is not based in Singapore but has been entrusted with a few great opportunities [to contribute] to this scene,” he said. 

The world of luxury has evolved, especially through the pandemic, reckoned Fu. “[There is now a need to] create a reason for people to travel, to experience something different and new. The role of design also plays a much stronger role,” he said.

“Hotels in particular are the window through which you experience a city at the very beginning of your journey and possibly the last part of the journey before you depart from that city, so it plays an important role in capturing a sense of place, the culture and feeling of being in a particular environment.” 

The Fullerton Bay Hotel is a reflection of contemporary and historical elements. (Photo: The Fullerton Bay Hotel)

For Fiamma, one of the ways to engage with its context was to enhance the relationship between indoors and outdoors, “reason being the outdoors has a very unique scenography – the Banyan tree, the landscape, the multi-tiered pool clad in Balinese stone – that forms the backdrop to the restaurant,” described Fu.

“That is very challenging and provocative because it is [harder] to create something approachable and intimate but also luxurious compared to something high-end, formal and decadent. And that is the most unique point about a restaurant like Fiamma,” he elaborated.

To create a gradual sense of unveiling and a more meaningful way of experiencing the long, curvilinear space provided by the architecture, he conceived six spatial narratives that segue one into the other, inspired by domestic settings.

The wine area at the entrance called The Den leads to the pizza bar fronted with an oven, then the open kitchen area called The Kitchen Chamber, which is designed like a dining room with a dramatic bronze chandelier, followed by The Living Room and finally the 16-seater private dining room. These look outward to the 100-foot-long alfresco terrace. Earthy tones and natural materials such as washed oak, chiselled stone, wrought iron metal and linen curtains mirror the natural scenery.  

The Den at Fiamma, which leads to the pizza bar. (Photo: Capella Singapore)

While the overall mood is consistent, each space is anchored by a distinct element so that it has a persona of its own, such as the pizza oven at the Pizza Chamber, or the tapestry in the private dining room, said Fu. The variety of experiences makes it exciting for guests who return.

“We imagine that for customers who have been to the Living Room before, the next time they visit, they might want to try and sit in the area looking to the pizza oven, which has a very different vibe,” said Fu.     

In his refurbishment of the guestrooms and villas, there is a similar subdued sensuality. “I wanted it to be like an imagined dialogue with the original designer Jaya Ibrahim so whilst the purity of the lines has been kept, the bespoke furniture and lighting that we introduced from my Andre Fu Living Collection have a sculptural quality with soft silhouettes that loosens up the formality of the spaces,” described Fu.

“[The design embodies] my language of relaxed luxury, giving it a freshness that echoes the lifestyle that people are thriving for when they come to have a slice of that Sentosa escape experience.”     

This can be seen in the villas’ lounge areas curvy lounges, as well as the cast glass wall lamps in the bedrooms. “We call it ripple glass because it looks like rippling water,” said Fu. For this year’s addition to his furniture and lifestyle brand that is also sold online, nature also provided the inspiration. Called Traces of Nature, the furniture pieces, lamps and tableware feature organic lines that echo the fluidity of paddy feels and contours of mountains.

Inside the one bedroom villa at Capella Singapore, which encapsulates Fu's philosophy of "relaxed luxury". (Photo: Capella Singapore)

“The collection is the story of the recent years when I did not travel. Being stationed in Hong Kong, I’ve had the chance to experience sceneries that I had never encountered before. I’ve also been looking at lot at the contemporary ink paintings of Chinese artist Wu Guangzhong that capture the Chinese landscape in a mesmerising and powerful way,” he shared.    

While his confinement in Hong Kong brought about a different perspective, he is keen to begin travelling again. At the time of the interview with CNA Luxury, Fu had just concluded a three-week trip that started in London, followed by Nice in the French Riveria and then Milan, Bangkok then Singapore for 20 hours.    

“What has been fascinating is that I’ve had the chance to reconnect with a lot of my clients, to visit some of the projects I’ve designed in the past two-and-a-half years. It’s been a very emotional three weeks because I had seen them via Zoom and now I was seeing [the completed spaces] for the first time. It’s like you’re giving them a hug in person, feeling the textures, physically experiencing the ambiences and finishing off the first hand feeling to all of them,” he commented.

He was also excited to see how the users interact with the environments he envisioned. “I hope that people are excited about the spaces I create, and that they becomes places that users would recommend to their friends or bring their families to,” he said.

“What is ultimately rewarding is when I have the chance to really engage my creations into other people’s lives. And I’m not just saying that. I really do mean it. It makes my work much more meaningful and rewarding.”

Source: CNA/mm